BUMP STOPS: Long Memories, Long Debate And Long Gone

Thursday, July 26, 2012
Photo: Travis Barrett/GWC

It's Thursday again. Time to roll the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

THERE ARE TWO lasting images I'll carry from the TD Bank Oxford 250 last weekend.

The first is seeing winner Joey Polewarczyk Jr. and third-place finisher Austin Theriault – Polewarczyk's soon-to-be brother-in-law – standing on the podium, an iPhone in a gaudy pink case between them, talking to Brittany Theriault via speaker phone.

The two of them, giggling like small children, trying to keep a straight face as they talk Polewarczyk's fiancee who was in Chicago following the race over on Speed 51.

Sometimes, we forget just how good Polewarcyk is – and how relatively young he is, at that. At just 23 years old, he's already won the three biggest Late Model events in New England. As a champion of the Oxford 250, the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Thunder Road's unique Milk Bowl, he already has a resume that many racers envy.

It also doesn't look like Polewarczyk will slow anytime soon.

Consider that he's likely still five years away from being in what is viewed as a driver's “prime,” and the sky is the limit on the regional scene for the Hudson, N.H., racer. Best of all, Polewarczyk really doesn't have any enemies.

How could he? He's personable, unassuming and doesn't ruffle feathers on the race track.

How unassuming is he? I asked him on Sunday morning how his car was in TD Bank 250 practice, and he just shrugged his shoulders.

“I think we're OK,” was essentially all Polewarczyk said, adding only a few notes about how he was trying to get a handle on a track that was loose in the heat of the mid-morning sunshine.

Apparently, “OK,” is code for “good enough to lead 205 of 250 laps and collect a winner's check of $45,500.

But the giddy Polewarczyk and Theriault were only half of the story at Oxford Plains Speedway Sunday.

Next to them on that podium was Jeff Taylor, the nine-time Oxford track champion and now a multi-time bridesmaid in the one race at Oxford that has eluded his incredible driving and car-building career.

Taylor was the best of the rest on Sunday, better than anybody on the track and in the pits. Better than anybody, that is, except for Polewarczyk.

As cars cleared technical inspection and haulers loaded with race cars snaked their way out of the pit area on Sunday night, Taylor walked alone in the dusky light to his pit stall. I offered a congratulations, to which he responded with a smile and a thanks.

“I'm sure it gets kind of old hearing that, though, doesn't it?” I asked him.

“You have no idea.”

And that's the other lasting image I'll carry out of Oxford on Sunday. In celebrating winning, sometimes we forget just how painful losing can be – especially when you've been trying for so long, only to keep coming up just that close.

ON THIS WHOLE Whelen Modified Tour/NASCAR-approved spec engine debate that's raging on: To try and whittle it down to one argument is difficult, but essentially it seems the fear among Modified Tour teams is that NASCAR is going to make the spec engine the only engine allowed to teams at some point in the future.

I spoke with NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Jerry Cook, NASCAR's Competition Administrator, at length on Wednesday afternoon. As the founder of the Whelen Modified Tour and a dyed-in-the-wool Modified guy, Cook was very, very clear on one point:

“We will NOT mandate the spec engine.”

Sure, there are those that will roll their eyes as the assertion and suggest that NASCAR can easily say one thing and do another. But given the heated nature of this whole debate, it's important to take Cook at his word.

After all, the folks at NASCAR know it would be a PR disaster on the Modified Tour to go back on their word on this one.

Ron Silk used the engine at New Hampshire Motor Speedway two weeks ago, winning the pole and finishing second in the Town Fair Tire 100 by .003 seconds to Mike Stefanik.

Some have suggested that NASCAR may not mandate the spec engine for teams, but that it will give it such a competitive advantage that teams will be all but forced to use it. Silk's car owner Ed Partridge has already seen that not to be the case.

“When we go to Loudon, we've run pretty god there for whatever reason,” said Partridge, whose No. 6 won the championship and a race at NHMS last season with Silk – and a traditional built engine. “We always try to run by ourselves (in practice) to see what the best we can do is, and we've almost always run a 29.5 (second lap) by ourselves. When we went to the test there this year, we ran 29.6, and then we came in and bolted on new tires and went out and ran a 29.39. Right then, people were saying, 'This is it . It's over.' But that's not the case if you saw the race.”

In fact, NASCAR made sure before teams got to the race track for the weekend at New Hampshire that Silk and the spec engine wouldn't have an advantage. They were given a smaller restrictor plate than what they'd used in the past – which sort of shoots a hole in that whole theory that NASCAR wants the spec engine to be superior, no?

REMEMBER WHEN THE NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship battle looked like it was shaping up to be one of the best in years, with as many as four teams in the running for the hardware at the end of the season?

Yeah, me either.

With Chase Elliott and Corey LaJoie's back-to-back run of bad luck over the last few weeks, Brett Moffitt has surged ahead of them both. Moffitt, in his fourth year in the series with his third different team, led every lap of the JEGS 150 last Saturday night at Columbus Motor Speedway for his second win of the season.

With seven Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes in nine races this season, Moffitt has a 22-point lead over Elliott with five races remaining.

The Grimes, Iowa, native is an interesting case study in NASCAR. Despite all of his success, Moffitt has no real path mapped out to stardom in any of the three national series.

He's been in the series for four years now, winning almost a quarter of his starts (9-for-42) and has never finished worse than third in the final standings. He's competed with Andy Santerre Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing – but every off-season he's been faced with the uncertainty of what next year will bring.

Moffitt is talented, and he does have some financial backing – the two “its” in NASCAR today.

The real question is, why has nobody seemed to notice?

THE NASCAR NATIONWIDE Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway really does nothing for me. I suppose, like everything else, things change.

TREVOR BAYNE HAD some interesting post-TD Bank Oxford 250 comments via Twitter and elsewhere last Sunday night.

Bayne essentially criticized his car for not having enough rear drive off the corners at Oxford, and he also was critical of the way other drivers raced him en route to a 31st-place finish in the event.

Give Bayne some credit here – he did show up on Saturday morning at the track and practiced in each and every practice session both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. He talked with a number of drivers familiar with racing at Oxford, was all smiles, handshakes and autographs with fans, and even qualified for the event on his own merit without needing a promoter's provisional.

But Bayne's comments struck a nerve.

First of all, find me an ACT Late Model Tour driver that DOES have rear drive off the corners and I'll show you a guy that's not racing a crate-engine Late Model on eight-inch tires. Not to mention, Oxford is a different animal – even for those cars under that current package. Most will tell you that because the track is so round and the outside groove is so good, that keeping the momentum rolling through the turns is the key.

But Bayne complaining about people racing him too hard? Woo-boy. He is a budding Cup star.

I'm pretty sure he was paid a handsome attendance fee. When he looks at his checking account for his “31st-place finish,” he won't feel quite so bad.

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the spicy pasta salad, and don't forget to tip your waitress. Foo Fighters are here, so stick around...

– TB